Film Review – Furious 7
The Fast & Furious series is one of those rare franchises that have actually improved the further it goes. Fourteen years have passed since the first, and only in the last few years has it really found its stride. A lot of that has to do with Justin Lin, who took the director’s chair four consecutive times: from Tokyo Drift (2006) to Fast & Furious 6 (2013). Lin wisely moved away from the street races of the earlier films to embrace an all out action extravaganza. He knew the right balance between the goofy and the sincere, and amplified it to the tenth degree. This is a franchise where people drive at high speeds ignoring the safety of innocent bystanders, but will turn around and talk about the importance of “family.”
Now comes Furious 7 (2015). Replacing Lin is James Wan, who made a name for himself in the horror genre (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring). Wan understands the approach audiences are looking for almost too well. This is the biggest, baddest, most action packed entry so far. Nearly every set piece could have been the climactic scene anywhere else; Wan pushes the envelope as far as he can take it. However, try as he might, Wan never hits the high marks that Lin did in Fast Five (2011) and Fast & Furious 6, but that’s ok. This is still an enjoyable rollercoaster ride from beginning to end.
One of the best things the series has done was tie loose threads together. A brilliant end credit sequence in 6 retconned the entire timeline, closing loopholes so well that it actually made Tokyo Drift a better movie. Chris Morgan’s screenplay brings us up to the present, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and the rest of the crew have finally settled down and found peace. Unfortunately, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of the last baddie they faced, sets his sights on revenge. The crew soon realizes that Deckard is on the hunt to take them out one by one.
The hinge of the plot involves the crew trying to find Deckard before he can attack them. They run across a secret government agency run by “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell). Mr. Nobody offers to help them find Deckard if they’ll track down the hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who has developed software capable to infiltrate technology as a means of locating anyone anywhere in the world. Problem is, Ramsey is currently in the hands of the international terrorist known as Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). If they get Ramsey, they get Deckard.
Got all that? The convoluted plot is just an excuse to take the crew around the world and participate in explosive chases and shootouts. We jump from L.A. to Abu Dhabi and back around for no reason other than to see crazy stunts in cool locations. The production doesn’t shy away from taking it to the limit. Cars voluntarily jump off cliffs, parachute out of planes, and even smash through the window of one skyscraper only to land inside of the building next door. It almost goes beyond superhero territory in the way the characters walk away from these spectacular crashes with little more than a scratch. One sequence – through the Caucasus Mountains – will go down as one of the very best action scenes of the whole series.
It’s fascinating how the writing and performances have bought into how cheesy this all is. Somehow, there’s a sincerity here that packs a surprisingly emotional counterpoint to the action. When we reunite with them, Dominic is trying to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memory. Quick flashback sequences remind us of the happier times they’ve had. Brian, now a father with Mia (Jordana Brewster), finds domestic life difficult to adjust to after everything he’s been through. These moments are not focused on too heavily, but just enough to heighten the material. We also get the usual comic relief from Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), and some over the top badass moments from Hobbs (a severely underused Dwayne Johnson) to maintain an overall balance. A point of emphasis should be made at how one of the biggest franchises in modern blockbuster history also features a highly diverse, multicultural cast. That is something to applaud.
Sadly, one of the main stories coming out of this film was the tragic death of Paul Walker in November 2013. His sudden passing – right in the middle of production – brought a lot of questions over how (or if) it would be completed. The decision was made to continue, using Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody as stand ins, and utilizing CGI to digitally add his face in where necessary. Outside of maybe one scene, I didn’t notice it often. But what happened adds a layer of melancholy to the whole movie. Whether it was intended or not, a number of moments reminds us of real life: scenes taking place in graveyards, an emotional interaction between Brian and Mia, etc. We can’t help by tie them to Walker’s accident. One scene where Roman says “No more funerals” hit a particular affecting chord.
Paul Walker fit perfectly in this series. He had a laid back charm, and an earnestness that made him easy to root for. He was the opposite to Vin Diesel’s rugged, rough around the edges portrayal of Dominic, which is what made their pairing so great. Wan’s send off of Walker in the closing montage was classy, tasteful, and moving. With all the hoopla that took place in the two plus hours prior, it’s something of a miracle how Wan ended on a beautifully poignant note. It will be a difficult challenge when “Fast and Furious 8” gets rolling. Paul Walker will definitely be missed.
Furious 7 is not the best of the franchise, but it belongs in the upper half. We can tell how hard it tries to reach the standard the prior installments set, but it doesn’t get there all the way. It does accomplish what it sets out to do though, and I’m sure fans will go in and get their money’s worth. In the end, that’s all we really ask of it.